FILM REVIEW: Rachel Bilson's 'Waiting for Forever' Fails With an Implausible, Generic Story

Waiting For Forever - Movie Poster - 2011
An ill-conceived romantic drama that’s as sappy, vague and awkward as its title. 

British up-and-comer Tom Sturridge stars in a deeply conflicting drama, directed by James Keach, that barely features two-dimensional characters.

Mistaking arrested development for enlightened innocence, Waiting for Forever is an indigestible hash of whimsy, drama, romance and, for good measure, crime. There’s hardly a believable moment in this story of a childlike nonconformist and his sideways crab-crawl toward the love of his life. Beyond the tried-and-true “follow your heart,” the takeaway from the misbegotten mush might be that jugglers are people too — a cri de coeur not likely to drum up much anticipation after the film bows Friday.

The emotionally wounded naïf at the center of the story, Will (Tom Sturridge), is a wandering street performer who’s meant to be purer and more evolved than the ordinary toilers of the mundane ole material world. He dresses in pajamas and bowler, speaks haltingly, with a faraway glint in his eye, and is unconcerned with career or possessions. In obvious contrast to all this gentle eccentricity is Will’s brother, Jim (Scott Mechlowicz), a banker — what else — who dares to question Will’s mental health.

Filmgoers will do likewise, especially when it becomes clear that Will hasn’t exactly been wandering aimlessly. He’s been tracking his childhood sweetheart around the country — not following or stalking, he assures her at one point, but “going where you are.” As the story opens, Will is hitchhiking to his Pennsylvania hometown, having learned that Emma (Rachel Bilson of The O.C.) is visiting her ailing father.

The difficult realities awaiting the beloved-from-afar Emma, now a TV star, at least offer respite from an unfulfilling career and a mangled relationship with her jealous boyfriend (The Vampire DiariesMatthew Davis). As her desperately lighthearted mother and take-no-prisoners father, Blythe Danner and Richard Jenkins offer a glimpse of another film, one with grownups in it. Mechlowicz’s Jim, and Jaime King, as his wife, do what they can to inject some conflicted emotion into their roles. The rest of the supporting performances range from tolerable to cringe-inducing.

The central love story is impossible to care about, with Bilson’s Emma barely two-dimensional. Brit Sturridge — who will play Carlo Marx, the Allen Ginsberg character, in On the Road — brings an apt fey quality to Will. But the supposed free spirit is a deeply problematic construction in the first place, lacking the necessary depth to make his personality disorder (not Asperger’s; he’s a preternaturally gifted reader of other people’s moods) look like the special gift it’s meant to be.

In lieu of well-developed characters and strong dialogue, Steve Adams lards his screenplay with backstory that does little to make the present-day action less ludicrous. The story veers from one implausible situation to the next, even taking a bizarre turn into policier territory, for all of a minute, with a bad-cop cameo by director James Keach.

Behind the camera, Keach opts at times for a fable-like tone, with postcard-America visuals from DP Matthew Irving. Utah locations might not convince as small-town Pennsylvania, but they offer a scrubbed and wholesome vision that suits the story’s make-believe aspects. The proportions are all wrong, though, in the mix of flat-footed whimsy and unrealistic realism. 

Opens Friday, Feb. 4 (Freestyle Releasing)
A Trevor Albert/James Keach production in association with Forrest Baker Prods.
Cast: Tom Sturridge, Rachel Bilson, Scott Mechlowicz, Richard Jenkins, Blythe Danner, Nikki Blonsky, Matthew Davis, Jaime King, Nelson Franklin, Richard Gant, Roz Ryan
Director: James Keach
Screenwriter: Steve Adams
Producers: Trevor Albert, James Keach
Executive producers: Forrest S. Baker III, Jane Seymour, Richard Arlook, Tim Nelson, John Papsidera
Director of photography: Matthew Irving
Production designer: Christopher R. DeMuri
Music: Damian Katkhuda, Nick Urata
Co-producer: Steve Adams
Costume designer: Carolyn Leone
Editor: Pamela March
MPAA rating: PG-13, 92 minutes